R93. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Year Published: 2013
Pages: 231

First Sentence: Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.
I've been very loosely attempting to return to my roots as I get to the end of this project, and to add in some more romnovs for my last few reviews. For some reason I was under the mistaken impression that All the Birds, Singing was a romance novel. It most definitely is not, but it is a really good book.

We're introduced to Jake Whyte when she finds one of her small flock of sheep dead, having clearly been attacked and killed by something—or someone. I say small flock because I know absolutely nothing about sheep but fifty of them doesn't seem like many compared with what was going on in The Thorn Birds (which coincidentally is one of the few other books I've read by an Australian author). Anyway, Jake is living alone with her sheep on an island somewhere in the UK. This is one of the two interwoven timelines in the novel. The second is Jake's not-so-distant past in her home country of Australia, and reveals, ever so slowly, what she's running from that has brought her to the other side of the world.

This past timeline runs in reverse, an extremely neat trick. Jake has to ditch the new friends she's made while shearing sheep, because one of them finds out she's being sought by a man who she doesn't want to find her. How'd she get started shearing sheep, a job that's clearly dominated by rough older men? Why is she on the run? Who is the man coming after her? The author of this book is Evie Wyld, and I really admire what she's done here—doling out answers step by step, and inviting new questions it hadn't seemed necessary to ask.

Jake Whyte is a fascinating character. She's someone who is clearly very in tune with the natural world around her, and she has intense empathy for animals. Hence all of the sheep all of the time, both in her past and her present. She has less care for herself and is just generally a really tragic figure. Better yet, she's surrounded by other characters who all feel like genuine, flawed human beings. Like her neighbour Don who keeps trying to convince her to spend some time down at the village pub to meet some other young farmers, but clearly has some unfinished family business of his own that he's avoiding dealing with. Or her beautiful friend Karen back in Australia, who is charming and bold but obviously just as trapped in a bad situation as Jake is.

As anyone who's read any number of my reviews can tell you, I'm pretty particular about what I consider good prose, and Wyld's is excellent. She doesn't overuse self-conscious metaphors and similes, but her writing is extremely descriptive, always latching on to sounds, smells, and temperature in concrete ways to pull you deeper into a scene. It helps, too, to really feel the change between the intense heat and arid climate of Australia in comparison with the gloom of the UK.

I do have to admit that I'm not sure I understood the ending of the novel. I hope it's not a spoiler to say that I think it's symbolic of Jake facing her past and what she's running from. But as for what is supposed to be actually happening? Not so sure. I don't care, though. The secondary ending—actually the beginning just ties things up so well that I'm sure that's all I'll remember.

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